Free lunch on Google: an interview with Andrew Norman Wilson
Artist ProfileDigital ProgrammeQuestion and AnswerThe Digital Image

Free lunch on Google: an interview with Andrew Norman Wilson

Stock Fantasy Ventures Image Concept Proposal, 2013

Stock Fantasy Ventures Image Concept Proposal, 2013

American artist Andrew Norman Wilson combines image-making with corporate critique in the age of both the conference room and the Internet. The artist’s complex practice engages with digital culture and technology under a market economy. By humorously examining the visual and written/spoken language of various marketing and communication methods used by big businesses within the worlds of computing, technology and media,Wilson creates a complex artistic parody in which the rhetoric of corporate capitalism can be questioned and new works of art created simultaneously. 

Ahead of his talk at The Photographers’ Gallery on Wednesday 4th December, the gallery’s blog editor Daniel C. Blight interviewed the artist.

Daniel C. Blight: Can you describe your work and your motivations for making it?

Andrew Norman Wilson: The work I understand to be on the more strategic-intentional end of the spectrum is focused on the relations, processes, and materiality of entities that constitute what is inappropriately called corporate globalisation: labor contracts and conditions, networked communications, flows of capital, media formats, commercial imagery, etc. With this work I try to approach these entities self-reflexively, often through direct involvement – being employed, paying for connection, negotiating investments, writing to customer service.

I also make work that slides towards the more affective-intuitive end of the spectrum. This process of making allows for an incongruous set of elements to mutually resonate and become something more unpredictable. Seduction is given a lot of weight here, both in process and presentation. Through these defective meditations, I’m attempting to create experiences where affect is given primacy to engage what our bodies are dealing with or will be dealing with in the near future. We’re entering a stage of molecular engineering, synthetic biology, sensory augmentation, avant-garde pharmaceuticals, and so on. This new biology, and any new work of art, requires us to abandon a lot of what we think we know, and make singular judgements that cannot be subsumed under pre-existing criteria. Aesthetics precedes cognition in such cases, because we are dealing with practices that can only be comprehended through the new categories that they themselves create.

DCB: As you suggest, your work seems to function in two ways: intentions you have to create strategies for making work which question market-driven business within neoliberal politics, but also this intuitive strive to create affect in some form (you make great looking pictures). Can you say something about the wider relevance of political critique in contemporary art practice, and also something about the way that you are considering the affect or element of seduction your work has on the viewer, as you are making it?

ANW: I maintain a continued interest in the socio-economic transformations made possible through the application of neoliberal policies. In particular – the effects this has had on labour, consumption, and flows of capital. I’m finding that the theoretical language of critique, negativity, and ideology feels inadequate for what I’m after. In contrast to distanced political critique, things get much more interesting to me when I can embody an economic position, relationship, or logic of production and then play with it or turn it against itself. This then takes our conceptions of “ the global” or “ venture capitalism” or “ technological progress,” and accompanies them back to the multitude of actual rooms in which these things are actually produced with all the actors that produce them – human and nonhuman.

The complex nature of contemporary production renders conventional representation and documentation difficult. What do “ the cloud,” venture capital, or the exhaustion of an informational labourer actually look like? For questions such as this, creating work that functions more so on affective registers feels necessary. I’m working on a new video called Uncertainty Seminars that employs corporate aesthetics across several sections, conflating modes of address from avant-garde cinema and video art with contemporary therapeutic and motivational techniques. It looks and sounds like a corporate self-help seminar from an unknown market that, with much ambivalence, addresses forms of uncertainty in personal, professional, and civil life.


DCB: You make some specific points and criticisms of capitalism, the global nature of markets and of technological progress. What led you to wanting to make work that considers these things? Do you feel that because of the current disparity between the rich and the poor (which is now greater than ever), as an artist – someone of relative privilege and education – it is your responsibility to engage with these issues? In this sense what social dimension does your work have?

ANW: I don’t think about it so much as a responsibility. It’s more so a matter of what I’m seduced by. I’m often drawn to conflict and it’s conditions – whether it be political, economic, ecological, bodily, molecular, etc. – because the stakes seem higher to me than brush stroke or melodrama. I have a personal stake in things like population density and complex financial products, and so does my dad, Masoumeh Ebtekar, everyone in that movie Krippendorf’s Tribe, this man, a woman in Mexico who once helped me pull my van out of the mud with her truck, and so on.

After studying public communications and journalism, I decided to become an artist because I felt like I could choose the matters I wanted to engage with. I haven’t been an artist for long but I see it as this lifelong project through which I’m creating modifiable and modular principles for a social reality that I want to inhabit, and collaborating with other principles when it seems appropriate. While restrictive at times, I find this way of life extremely liberating. On a practical survival level it allows for aberrant solutions to the restrictions, such as stealing from solvent multinationals. The practical solutions afford a way of life that extends into artistic engagements with matters on a range of scales that include social dimensions.

North Of England Institute of Mining Engineers Transactions Volume9_306, 2013

North Of England Institute of Mining Engineers Transactions Volume9_306, 2013

DCB: So in a sense, you came to art-making from a place where your experience of labour and society were far from ideal, and you now want to suggest new ways, however small or modifiable, in which our current social reality in the West might be re-thought? I hear something interesting happened when you worked for Google – how did this effect your practice and your current mode of thinking?

ANW: It made me realise that hot lunch as an artist rarely comes for free and can’t compete with the Google cafe hot lunches I used to eat every day on their tab. But the way I’m able to think and make now is much more exciting.

Question and AnswerThe Photobook

At home on the page: Aron Mörel on his approach to publishing photo books

This interview continues a series of Q&As that focus on the contemporary photo book. To put this in context, today is world photo book day, which marks 170 years since the first photo book was published, purportedly in 1843, by Anna Atkins. We have certainly come a long way since Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. To celebrate this event we have asked Aron Mörel of Mörel books to respond to a few questions on the contemporary photo book, as he sees it.

1. What, in your view, do photo books contribute to the culture of photography?

To me photography feels most at home on the page – be it an album, magazine or book. These are mediums that leave the photograph at its most tangible and intelligible – at times in ergonomic perfection – allowing the viewer to read images at any pace or in any sequence. The book also gives photography to the masses. I love prints and viewing images in galleries, but they’re out or reach of my finger tips and finances, and they feel somehow elevated on a gallery wall. I like to think photography wants to be mass reproduced – the book just packages this between two covers and gets it out. Its the same revolutionary concept as taking the word from the podium and putting it via the printing press into the hands of the multitudes. The book at its best and most successful is an object of dissemination – that can change everything!

2. How do you define your role within the growing and changing field of photo book publishing? What are you trying to achieve?

I’m not sure what my role is, it changes from book to book. I do not represent any specific genre and I’m happy to work with the likes of Thomas Ruff and Terry Richardson. I also look at all the work democratically – it doesn’t matter if its Boris Mikhailov or a student, I’m just interested in the work. The greatest achievement is to put out a book which brings a body of work to light.

3. Do you publish online books and what might the future hold for this method of digitally distributing books?

So far I haven’t published any digital books. I’m happy to make PDF’s of our books available when they’re out of print, but feel this is a cheap short cut to e-publishing. Photography has no problem seeping into the digital world, not only through cameras, but through other technologies such as instagram or even moving gifs. I’d prefer to work with something more in tune with this digital aspect of the medium, than just flattening an already published book into an ebook…

4. Which book do you feel most precisely demonstrates what your publishing company is about?

Every book I’ve published is exactly what we are about. My interest is always evolving, so I’m sure in the future I will publish something I would not consider publishing today. There are also previous books which I feel were of their time, but am still very proud of today.

5. What kind of a relationship do you strike up with the artists whose work you publish?

Mörel is small and we keep things intimate with the artists as well as with our retailers – we’re sort of a pivot between the two worlds which I feel is an important part of publishing. I wouldn’t work with someone if I felt we weren’t both in for the same reasons and enjoying ourselves in the process – life’s too short for that – and there are far to many other projects to pursue!